For the past two years I have sat on the board of Lewes Community Football Club, for those who didn’t know. The board comprises of five elected members of the club, and two of the original six directors who took over the club back in July 2010. Apart from Terry, our Chairman who has now served every role in the club from boot boy, prolific centre-forward, manager, cheer leader and elected director, none of the board have any experience in football. Many will see that as a major weakness, feeling that our naivity only serves to underline the fact why people like us shouldn’t be involved at this level of the game.
Sure, we make mistakes, but as a club we have grown stronger both financially and operationally through adversity. Slowly but surely we have learnt all the tricks, the tactics, the slight-of-hand moves that still blight our game at the grass roots level. It would be far too easy to adopt a “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach to certain aspects, but we vowed as a club that one of our core values would be to do things the proper way, even if this cost us more money and took us on a longer, more painful route in the long term. We aren’t trying to be whiter, than white or holier than holy. We simply want to act in a transparent way, reflective of the fact we are elected representatives of our fans and ultimately owners. It’s sort of how Members of Parliament should act, but we don’t claim for our second homes or duck houses in our moats.
Whilst we all may not always agree on every aspect of this approach, one on which we are 100% shoulder to shoulder is financial fair play. We believe that all clubs should be transparent about their budgets every season. Whilst the presence of a single benefactor is a welcome addition to any club, the long term financial legacy needs to be considered over short-term gain. Lewes know this only too well from a painful past, and we hate to see other clubs taken down a lucrative road which ends in a cul-de-sac of financial hardship and ultimately the demise of a local club.
Club officials often ask us what our “real” budget is, not believing the figures we publish on our website. They are the real deal. There is no trickery in the numbers. What everyone can see is what the manager gets for his annual budget. We do not live on the hope of a cup run, or lucrative pre-season friendlies. If they arrive, then it is a bonus for the club. We pay every member of the club who is employed on a weekly basis through their bank account, paying tax and NI at source, as any normal business should. Just because we are a football club, why should we do things any differently.
My change would not necessarily mandate all clubs do the same. Whilst that would be a huge step forward for the game, I cannot see it ever happening. But what I would want to see is at the start of each season a copy of the budget lodged with the relevant league. They would then have a independent audit of the budgets and approve them before the season starts. At two check points during the year the budget would also have to be resubmitted. Why is this a good idea?
It tries to avoid any potential “shocks” to the league system. A club folding, or tettering on the edge of financial meltdown causes massive problems for everyone. There are normally signs of this happening within the real accounts (and herein lies a major stumbling block to this idea, the concept that real accounts actually exist) and questions could be asked before major issues arise.
Often the fans, the people who are at the real heart of the club, supporting them through thick or thin when owners come and go, are the ones who suffer the most. They are only aware of issues when a compelling event, such as a “related” business collapses, or the club announces that the grim reaper is knocking on the door. Suddenly their Saturday afternoon’s are no longer filled with the joy of watching a game at the club they love.
So why not introduce a standard budgeting template for all clubs. And encourage clubs to be transparent. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but surely it makes sense. Am I being too sensible again? Am I mistaking sensible governance that is seen in normal industry for one that would be beneficial to the beautiful game? I’ll go and sit back down in my darkened room with my Harvey’s Blue Label.